Experts think of 2 to 4 p.m. is the prime nap time window.
With 20 minutes or less, you're taking a garden-variety power nap, which can improve your short-term alertness and performance
Although being an adult is generally cooler than being a toddler, it falls short in at least one major way: Why is nap time no longer a thing? “If you’re getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, naps can be part of a healthy sleep schedule,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a fellow at the NYU School of Medicine and co-author of Sleep for Success! Plus, it’s not like anyone’s arguing: The people want to nap. According to research commissioned by Casper, a buzzy mattress delivery startup, 66 percent of over 10,000 people surveyed would take a quick snooze more frequently if their offices had designated napping areas. (Maybe something like this Tranquility Pod?)
But it’s not like everyone has been on the snooze train. “At one time we thought naps were bad for sleep and bad for us,” says Natalie Dautovich, PhD, National Sleep Foundation’s Environmental Scholar and assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I think we’re starting to understand [napping is] a much more complex phenomenon.” Even better, experts are beginning to think a midday nap could be the key to triumphing over the dreaded afternoon energy crash.
The ideal amount of nap time
When you sleep for 20 minutes or less, you’re taking a garden-variety power nap, which can improve your short-term alertness and performance, says Dr. Dautovich. And that’s the key to a quality power nap: Keep it under 20 minutes and you’ll emerge refreshed. But any longer and your body enters a deeper slumber that’s harder to wake up from, like your rapid eye movement, or REM, cycle.
“Your REM cycle is strongly connected to cognitive functions like creativity, memory and coming up with solutions to problems,” says Dr. Robbins. “We believe that since [REM sleep is] so restorative, disrupting that cycle [by waking up in the midst of it] can throw you off.” There’s also the chance that you could wake up in a deep stage of sleep that experts call non-REM sleep stage 3. “It’s more difficult to awaken from [this stage] of sleep than [others],” says Dr. Dautovich. “Whenever you wake up from a deeper stage of sleep, you can experience sleep inertia, which is a feeling of disorientation.” So basically, keep things short.
Twenty minutes or less is the rule, unless you’re really dragging, in which case you should get about 90 minutes of shut-eye. “This kind of nap is [best] for someone who had a bout of shortened sleep the night before,” says Dr. Robbins, and will help you feel like you’re mentally, physically and energetically restored on a deeper level.
If you can’t get consistent, good quality sleep at night, says Dr. Robbins, you should be skipping the napping altogether. When you’re regularly not getting rest or have insomnia issues, sleeping during the day can throw your circadian rhythm — your natural sleep and wake cycle — even further out of whack.
How to pimp out your nap
The best time to do it: “Most people experience a dip in energy and alertness in the early to mid-afternoon,” says Dr. Dautovich. Experts aren’t sure exactly why this occurs, although they think it may be built into the natural ebb and flow of your circadian rhythm. Having just eaten a meal can definitely exacerbate that sleepiness, says Dr. Robbins. That’s why experts think of 2:00-4:00 p.m. as the prime nap time window. “It’s the ideal time to engage in a nap because you’re sleepy, but still far enough away from bedtime that you’ll have the drive to sleep at night,” says Dr. Dautovich. Just like that, you’ll kick post-lunch fatigue to the curb.
Setting the scene: Start by silencing anything that emits a chirp, beep, buzz or other disrupting noise. “After you set your phone alarm, put it in airplane mode,” advises Dr. Robbins. “Even if it’s just a short nap, it’s important to take that extra precaution of getting out of a busy environment.” Keep things dark, too. Dim your computer screen if necessary, and close your curtains or come prepared with an eye mask.
Cool it off: If you can control the temperature, set it between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Experts say this range is most useful in promoting sleep because it hits the spot of being neither too cold nor too hot. While you may normally keep temperatures in the 70s or 80s during the day, turning down the thermostat mimics the way your body naturally cools when you sleep, so you’re more comfortable when nodding off. “Warm temperatures are associated with more tossing and turning,” says Dr. Robbins. “We see 65 as the ideal temperature for sleep.” Use that as your guide, or experiment in the 60 to 68 degree range to figure out what’s best for you.
Making your nap work…at work
If you’re trying to figure out how to squeeze a nap in at work, you’re part of a growing trend. Bloomberg staffer Rebecca Greenfield recently tried it out and came to one main conclusion: It’s hard to nap at work if your office doesn’t get why it’s important. “If companies really want employees to get the benefits of naps, the culture needs to support sleeping on the clock,” she says. So if you have a nap-friendly employer, take a midday snooze next time you’re feeling less than 100 percent.
What to do if you don’t work at one of those forward-thinking offices with a nap room? “If you’re lucky enough to have an office, shut the door and just don’t tell anyone you’re napping!” says Dr. Robbins. “I can’t tell you how many executives have shown me their sleeping bags under their desks.” No door? Think about your how badly you really need a nap — and don’t be afraid to get creative. Is it feasible to grab some shut-eye in your car? Is there a conference room no one ever uses where you won’t be discovered? Would your friend let you stake out her office for a nap while she’s in a meeting? You may just dream up a cool idea.